SCCHS Haunted Walking Tours

Good morning, friends!

Last night we wrapped up being featured speakers for the St Clair County Historical Society haunted walking tours. The theme was ‘Belleville Horror Story’ and we were asked to represent our home by sharing research and stories, along with former owners Chris and Nikki Hettenhausen.

All said, we stood out front of our home 18 times this week and told our stories to almost 650 people. It was more fun than work and I enjoyed getting to know Chris and Nikki a little better. We got great feedback from tour-goers and my only hope is that it sparks a desire to continue learning the history of this family,  home, street, and town.

Now that the tours have concluded, I figured we could share our side of the story. For my part, I started out by sharing the history of the home and the story of Roland and Petra Romeiser. I’ve posted it here in depth before [you can click on their names for links], but I want to recap here. I ended with our personal experiences in the house which are things I’ve never shared publicly before. If you missed out on getting a ticket for the sold out walks, here’s your chance to read up on what we talked about!

Buckle up…

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As you all know by now, the family that originally owned our house was very well-to-do in the late 1800s. The patriarch, Peter, owned a mercantile store and was very successful. He lived in the house with his wife Elise and their 8 children. In 1906, their 6th child, a son named Roland, had just graduated from high school. He was well known and well loved by the entire town. Very musically inclined, not only did he raise money for a new piano for the high school, but he composed the graduation song for the Belleville High School senior class of 1906

That November, the family had gathered to celebrate Peter’s birthday. They did this by gathering around the piano for hours as Roland entertained them with songs. The family went to bed around 10pm while Peter stayed up to read the newspaper. About an hour later, he himself headed to bed and heard a disturbance coming from the boy’s bedroom upstairs. Upon entering, he found Roland struggling to breath. He called for the doctor but by the time he arrived, Roland had died in Peter’s arms.

 

This otherwise healthy, happy 17-year old boy whose life was just getting started died of a heart attack. The entire town and his family was absolutely devastated, especially his older sister Petronella who had been home visiting from college. Petra even remarked several times how she wished she had been the one that had died. It was remarks like this that led the eldest daughter, Emma, to keep a close eye on Petra. She didn’t leave her side, even going so far as to pretend to sleep at night… basically keeping one eye open so that she could watch Petra and make sure she didn’t harm herself.

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Two days after Roland’s death, the night before his funeral, Peter and Elise were off making funeral arrangements. All the Romeiser siblings had been invited to dinner across the street. When they arrived, Petra made an excuse that she had forgotten her dinner gloves at home and needed to go fetch them.

No one really thought anything of it and so she turned to leave. It took a split second for Emma to realize she would be alone… when she looked back at Petra, she discovered her running full speed towards the house. Emma took off after her..

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When Petra got to our house, she ran inside and up to the second floor. And she kept going. She ran all the way up to the third floor bedroom. Emma was close behind her the whole time. Once she reached the 3rd floor, Petra had so much momentum that she flung herself through a closed glass window. Emma was able to grab onto her foot but couldn’t hold on and so Petra tumbled around 50 feet to the ground below. She suffered a broken arm, deep cut, and a massive concussion  but because Emma grabbed her foot and slowed her fall, she lived. She was, however, institutionalized in a facility outside Chicago.

true-republican-9191908-e28094-illinois-digital-newspaper-collectionsShe stayed there for two years. Then, in 1908, she was out for her daily walk with her assigned nurse. She convinced the nurse to break from their regular route… to a route that crossed a train track. Petra leaped onto the tracks in front of an oncoming train.

The last thing she did was turn, look at her nurse, and she smiled. The train struck her and she was killed instantly. The train even had to be “lifted up off of the tracks to retrieve her mangled form,” a newspaper report said.

Sadness followed the Romeiser family after Roland and Petra’s deaths. Matriarch Elise would go on to die in the home in April of 1916, followed a few short months later by Peter himself. And, furthermore, Emma (the sister who cared for Petra), would later go on to die tragically on the crash of the Hindenburg, alongside her husband John. Their adult son Hilgard was on the observation platform watching helplessly.

The fact that SO MUCH tragedy can touch one singular family is kind of astounding to me. Of all the original 8 children, only one has any remaining living descendants and I feel like if we don’t start sharing and preserving these stories, soon enough, there won’t be anyone left to tell them.

This story sort of sets the tone for some of the paranormal activity that could have occurred here in years since because who’s to say that anyone who died in this home or was attached to this home in someway ever really left.

Personal Experiences

Ash and I are pretty extreme skeptics. It’s not that I don’t believe in ghosts or paranormal activity… I’m just not sure what I believe. I like to think that those we love and have lost still have some way to communicate or be with us but a large part of me thinks I just tell myself that as a comfort. I don’t mean to discredit anyone’s personal experiences; if anything, they actually convince me even more that there could be some other plane of existence out there beyond this world.

About a month ago (almost exactly the one-year-anniversary of the date we moved in), we were headed to bed and above our heads on the third floor I heard someone (or something) knocking. Just like you would knock on a door. It was three distinct knocks, clear as if they were in the room next to me. I looked at Ash and asked if he heard it and he admitted that he did. When he got up to go investigate, it happened again. Sometimes we hear muffled footsteps up on the 3rd floor, and what I would describe as something being dragged across the floor. We’ve always tried to explain away these sounds but eventually it will get to the point where maybe there isn’t an explanation. It should be noted that the 3rd floor is completely unfinished, empty, a construction site and our kids aren’t allowed up there.

Okay, I’m almost done. One little thing and one big thing.

Little thing: the motion detector we have on our second floor to help us see down our dark kitchen staircase comes on ALL the time, even if we’re not near it.

And the big thing. This is what made me really start to question my stance on ghosts and spirits and activity. Last Winter, I was cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. Son #1 was in the living room watching a show and Son #2 was upstairs in his room playing. He was 5 at the time and didn’t have any sort of electronics in his room, not a TV or video games or even a radio. Just him and his action figures and blocks.

All of a sudden I hear him flying down our back kitchen stair case as fast as he can go. When he gets to the kitchen I look at him and he is white as a sheet. I say, “Baby! What’s wrong?!” and he breathlessly says…. “MOM! ….someone said my name.”

Stay sweet and Happy Halloween, friends!
The Brick and Maple ❤

More Goodies!

Up next on my favorite installment of Stuff We’ve Found are these beauties! Another glass bottle, a short rim cartridge, a frequent buyer punchcard from Romeiser’s, dominoes, and really, really old glass. Husband has been doing some rewiring work on our 2nd floor and to access some of those electrical lines, he’s been crawling in walls and prying up floorboards on the third floor. He’s started quite the little collection of items and I could not be more excited. Each piece just adds to the story.

I love to sit and imagine what happened on the days those items were placed there so long ago. Who thought to hide their glass bottle in the wall instead of burying it in the backyard? Who dropped their clothing punchcard between the floorboards and which curse word did they use when they realized it was gone “forever”? Was a child disappointed that they’d lost their dominoes? The endings to those stories are left to the imagination… but that’s my favorite part.

 

 

This Nehi soda glass bottle has a patent date on the bottom of March, 1925. It was bottled here in Belleville, IL. In 1924, the Chero-Cola company added Nehi to its roster of sodas, offering grape, orange, root beer, peach, and other flavors of soda. It was instantly successful (outselling the Chero-Cola name brand entirely), which caused the company to change its name to the Nehi Corporation in 1928. Sales boomed and, despite a dip in sales in 1931 due to the Great Depression, Nehi was widely a household name even through the 1940s.

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When chero-cola was rebranded at Royal Crown cola, the company saw yet another name change to RC Cola, the same RC Cola we see in stores today. It’s likely that this bottle was enjoyed by someone who lived on our third floor during the time it was parcelled into wartime apartments. It’s in remarkable condition, without a single nick or chip.

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This rimfire cartridge seemed pretty mysterious at first because the headstamp on the end resembles the German Cross (which would have been a no-no after about WWI…) but through pretty deep digging, we were finally able to track its source. This is a .22 short rimfire cartridge from the Western Cartridge Company based out of East Alton, IL. They used the Maltese Cross as a headstamp, later using it as their company logo. It’s not uncommon for the German Cross to be confused with the Maltese Cross, which is why we were a little confused in the beginning. The Western Cartridge Company transitioned to using a diamond stamp and logo in 1910, so this cartridge likely predates that.

One of the more interesting finds were these two fully intact sheets of plate glass. The label indicates that they came from the Pittsburgh Plate Glass company in Creighton, PA, the first financially successful plate glass company in the country. Established in 1883, they would become the largest manufacturer of plate glass in the world. Plate glass is different than other glass in that it is poured and rolled into shape, instead of blown. Extensive grinding and polishing operations–reducing the plate to half its original thickness–made the product smooth and shiny, free of optical distortion (AKA: no more wavy glass).

 

There’s no real way of telling if this glass was using during construction of our house in 1887 (with these being leftovers just being left behind) or whether Peter Romeiser was interested in using Pittsburgh Plate Glass in the windows of The Romeiser Company and had these sent as samples. Regardless, the glass itself is in perfect condition. The paper logo is worn but it’s at least 130 years old– what do you expect?! 🙂

Today Husband bought a giant high-power magnet to help grab up any other metal items floating around in the places he crawls through. Hopefully this isn’t my last update on things we’ve found in walls!

Lots of love,
Emily

Shopping Small on Main Street

Gooooood mornning Belleville!

I’ve been woefully inferior about maintaining any sort of regular posting schedule, which I absolutely apologize for! I’ll get right on fixing that. 😉

This morning, I want to share with you an incredible photo from the Romeiser Company during their heyday!

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These beautiful street fairs were wildly popular… and honestly, not much has changed. There’s definitely this running “joke” about What’s Going on in Belleville this Weekend? Becuase there’s inevitably some sort of festival or fair or parade.

The Fall of 1906 was not a good year for the Romeisers as a family unit and I have no idea when this photo was taken… whether it was Spring or Summer or what. It’s somewhat chilling to see the year and think about everything they were going or would go through come November…

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I would really love to track down the story of this photo. Emil Geil was Peter Romeiser’s business partner, trusted confidant, and friend. They worked together at the company, with Mr. Geil carrying on his duties after Peter’s death. That this photo came from an employee of The Romeiser Company feels super special and I’d love to know who it was.

This photo is right in line with the theme of the 2019 Belleville Historical Society’s annual calendar, “Shopping Small on Main Street.” Naturally The Romeiser Company is featured in the calendar. It’s really beautiful and I’m proud to be able to offer them for sale. They’re $10 and if you’re wanting a copy, email me via our contacts tab!
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If you’re local to Belleville, these are also for sale at the following locations: Artiste de Fleur, Dill’s Floral Haven, Peace by Piece Boutique, Circa Boutique, Happy Hop Home Brew, Eckert Florist, Local Lucy’s, Eckert’s Country Store, Papa Vito’s, and Keil’s Antiques.

We will also have some for sale this weekend at Garfield Saloon, home to the Bellevile Historical Society. On Saturday, Sept. 15, there will be a community tag sale filled with vintage and antique items (and calendars!) followed by the 7th annual Plein Air Art Auction. Local artists are painting historic sites around town and will then auction their paintings at 1:00. It’s a great fundraiser for our organization and I’m excited to be a part of it all.

Lots going on in Beautiful Belleville! Hopefully we’ll see you this weekend at Garfield Saloon!

Lots of love,
Emily

Baby Julia

Last Friday we spent the afternoon doing something completely out of character: traipsing around a cemetery.

Walnut Hill Cemetery in Belleville, IL is the eternal resting place of many of Belleville’s original families, including the Hilgards. Theodore and Emma Hilgard were Elise’s parents– you’ll remember Elise as the matriarch of the family who originally lived in our home. She even named her first two children after her parents and used Hilgard as a middle name for most of her 8 children.

The Romeisers themselves are mostly interred at a mausoleum in St. Louis, save for some of the adult children who died later in life. Except for one.

Baby Julia Romeiser was laid to rest alongside her grandparents at Walnut Hill. She died the same day she was born, June 10, 1892. We aren’t certain which room it was where she was born but we do know it was here at the house. She lived for only 30 minutes. On Friday we set out to find her resting spot, and we believe we found it.

The cemetery records are fairly thorough yet quite honest– plots are listed on a grid with any and all relevant indicators like names and dates. It also states that some child graves are unmarked. Given the Romeiser’s financial status, I fully believe they would have provided Baby Julia with a headstone.

At the Hilgard plot, you see a tall obelisk dedicated to Theodore and Emma. It is surrounded by headstones where the names are too eroded to read. Going off of the plot grid and information online, we were able to determine which headstones belong to who. In the place where Baby Julia could lie, there’s an ineligible marker. The website lists her name on this plot and says that she was laid to rest next to her Grandparents’ marker– the obelisk. This headstone is next to the obelisk and we believe it’s for Julia.

Regardless, she’s in this general area.

We aren’t normally ones to explore cemeteries or graveyards but something about this family drives me to do things out of the ordinary, like speak in public or clean. 😉 

Because there’s no one really left to tell these stories, we felt that Baby Julia deserves this, someone who knows about her, who knows about her light that shone all too briefly. It’s just another sad piece in the puzzle that is the Romeisers.

 

Researching the History of Your Home!

Hey everyone! Today I had the pleasure of speaking at Belleville’s Museum Day activities. I was at the Garfield Saloon talking about how to research the history of your home. I figured these would be great notes to share with all of you. I don’t claim to be an expert in historical research whatsoever, but it is a hobby and passion of mine and we’ve had quite a bit of luck finding information about our house and the original family.

Researching the history of your home is a multi-faceted endeavour… it’s a little bit of determination, a little bit of stubbornness, a lot of patience, and a little bit of luck. My husband and I joke that we can very easily get sucked into an Ancestry black hole and not realize we’ve been staring at our computer screens for four hours until it’s 2 in the morning and our eyes are bloodshot.

The bulk of my research is done online. Today I provided all the guests with a handout of the websites I use… here it is in JPEG form so that you can save it to your phone or PC for reference. It is Belleville specific but no matter where you live, your city website and libraries should have similar information.

resourcesThe first should come as no surprise: Ancestry. This is a subscription service that has proven itself invaluable. I gladly spend the $20 a month to use this service and have discovered photos of original residents of our home that hadn’t previously been connected to our house. They do have a free trial available to use and I highly recommend using it a lot during that trial to see if it’s going to be a good fit. Once on Ancestry, you can search by name, birth date, marriage date, and death date. The search pages will yield results and potential results, perhaps people with similar names or in some instances, cases where the people you actually ARE looking for had their names misspelled on official documents. I discovered that Emma Romeiser actually had three children, one that died at birth. She gave birth to Roland Pannes in September 1916. His birth certificate was written in cursive and had combined the two N’s to be read as an R and an M together, changing the last name from Pannes to Parmes. I’ve purposefully searched the most common misspellings of Romeiser to see what information pops up.

The two websites geneologybank.com and familysearch.org are also incredible resources. Geneologybank blends ancestry like results with digitized newspapers all over the country. Familysearch is free but geneologybank is not. It also offers a free trial. A lot of times you’ll discover that these free trials require credit card information to be entered when you sign up– don’t let this scare you off. I have NEVER had an unauthorized charge on my account and if you cancel within the 2 or 4-week trial period, no charge is ever made to your card. Cancelling free trials is really easy and can be done online through these sites– there’s not even a need to call customer service and sit on hold for an hour. So as long as you click before the deadline, there’s no cost to you.

kitchenfire.pdfUnless you’re okay with spending the money– sometimes you’ll find it’s worth it. Like I pay for Ancestry every month. I also paid the $75 fee to use Newspapers.com for six months because it is such a huge resource to me. On Newspapers.com I search each individual members of my home by name and porr through the results. I also just put our address in the search bar and see what comes up. I found classified ads looking for help with cooking and the laundry, yard sales, and interesting tidbits like a kitchen fire in the early 1900s.

The library will prove invaluable. The archives at the downtown branch are extensive and they have microfiche for decades and decades of archived newspapers. Some of those newspapers have been digitized and are available on a searchable database by keyword. This is also available on the library’s website if you prefer to search from the comfort of your home. All you need to log-in is your library card number, and of course, if you don’t have a library card, they are free to get.

For those of you local to Belleville, the St Clair County Historical Society has archives available and their curator, Will Shannon, has a photo collection to pull from that helped us find photos of some of the Romeiser daughters. The Belleville Historical Society has a similar resource available on their website that lists area museums that have photos, documents, and stories if what you’re looking for is Belleville specific.

Then, of course, there’s just plain old Google. When searching, search names of former residents (if you’re unsure, you can search at the Recorder of Deeds office) and your specific address.

By searching all of these places, you’ll be able to fill in some potential gaps. We’ve used the Belleville City Directory to name owners of pretty much every house on our street and have been able to expand our search from there. I even search those names on Ancestry and see what photos pop up. Sometimes you’ll be able to find photos of neighbors that might have your home in the background or even residents posing with those neighbors.

Like I said, I don’t claim to be an expert in any way and have honestly been very lucky in our research. It takes persistence and patience. Essentially, don’t be afraid to ask local historians and archivists for help, don’t be afraid to search something that may not be entirely accurate (like a misspelled name or your neighbor’s address) because you may end up finding something really interesting, and don’t be afraid to sign up for that free trial or even spend a few dollars for a month or two to give yourself time to find information.

Happy hunting!!
The Brick and Maple Family

Belleville News Democrat Feature

Last week, I sat down with Heidi Wiechert to tell the story of Emma Romeiser Pannes… today the story went live. It is accompanied by a video interview with Derik Holtmann that narrates a bit of her and John’s life set against the backdrop of what they’re most known for: that they died on the Hindenburg.

This has been an incredible experience and I am so grateful that both Heidi and Derik were so thorough. My fear in all of this is that I would miss something or not do Emma and John justice… I shouldn’t have worried about that. The BND honored them both in such a real way.

Here is the link to the story. I hope you’ll share it.

http://www.bnd.com/news/local/article209877944.html

If you found my blog through the story, welcome! Please scroll through the archives to check out my other posts. We’ve tried to mix it up with home renovation projects, historical research, and introducing the original family. We also document our day to day on Instagram. Give us a follow @thebrickandmaple!

Thank you to everyone at the Belleville News Democrat for this incredible story!

Daughters

Imagine the twinkle in a Father’s eye as he gazes upon his sweet children. Picture the care and devotion that went into nurturing tiny loves, joy felt in watching them reach milestones, the swelling of pride as they learned to read and sing and dance. Imagine an outing to a photographer in St. Louis specifically to capture those little moments forever. The year would have been sometime in the early 1890s- perhaps 1891 or 2…

I can see it now. Peter and Elise Romeiser rise for the day and, with the help of their house maid Lizzie, delicately clean and ready three crisp, white dresses, stockings, and hair ribbons. They bathe the three sweet, beloved Romeiser daughters and tie their hair in bows. Peter readies the carriage that will take them into St. Louis to photographer F.W. Guerin.

Fitz W. Guerin was a New York native and at the age of 13 set out for St. Louis to work for Merrill Drug Company. As a teen he joined the Union Army, later becoming the recipient of the Medal of Honor in the Civil War. On returning to civilian life, he became a successful society and celebrity photographer in St. Louis.

The Romeisers, being of high society, utilized his services on this day in the early 1890s. The photograph, preserved for over a century, comes to us via the St. Clair County Historical Society and the hard work of their curator, William P. Shannon IV. In meeting with him yesterday, he supplied this image that actually made me cry.

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Photo Collection, St. Clair County Historical Society, Used with Permission

In the photo, you’ll see eldest Romeiser daughter Emma, born in 1880. She would be around 11 or 12 in this photo. In the middle is Petra, aged 8/9, and on the far right is Corona, who we haven’t introduced to you yet, dear reader. Corona was born in 1887, the same year Peter built this impressive house on Abend Street.

I look at these sweet faces and at once am both overjoyed and saddened. Overjoyed because I know how deeply they were loved. Saddened because I know of the harrowing and heartbreaking experiences they will encounter as they get older. Their life at this point is so charmed… I am comforted by the fact that they won’t yet experience the first of their tragedies for another 15-years.

It’s how I can also see this lovely photo of Emma from 1899 with still a modicum of joy. Also provided by Will at the SCCHS, this photo is dated and signed by Emma. Christmas, 1899. She would have been 19… she was living life as a new adult, enjoying parties, engagements, and life in high-society, even having been named to the court of the 1898 Belleville Flower Carnival.

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Photo Collection, St. Clair County Historical Society, Used with Permission

Of all the Romeiser children, I feel a special connection with Emma. Perhaps in name, perhaps the fact that she’s the eldest of their three daughters, I don’t know why– I just know deep in my bones that I have to tell her story. Tomorrow (Friday, April 27th), I’m meeting with a reporter from our local newspaper so we can put forth a special article about Emma ahead of the anniversary of the crashing of the Hindenburg. (To read my full post on Emma’s life, click here!)

It’s the first step in a long, thought-out process of getting Emma’s story published, of securing her place in the annals of history, of ensuring that no one ever forgets what happened to her and her family.

But for now, I can gaze upon these sweet faces and think about what their lives might have been.

Endless thanks to Will Shannon and the entire staff of employees and volunteers at the St. Clair County Historical Society. They work tirelessly to preserve these pieces of history and we could not be more grateful.

Stay sweet, be grateful, hug your babies. Take their photo today and cherish it.
The Brick and Maple Family ❤